What is migration?

To define the term termmigration it is useful to take a look at the term termmobility. Mobility is referred to as a change of a person between defined entities of a system (Bähr 2004). A distinction can be made between social and spatial mobility. Social mobility is change of position made within a social system. It can happen for instance through increased economic wellbeing, marriage or through education when a person can get a job that improves his/her social status. A change of position within a physical space is referred to either as termcirculation when the change is not a change of residence (i.e. tourism, commuting, business trips) or migration. Social and spatial mobility are often closely related to each other: migration can lead to a change of social status when a person finds a better job in the place she/he has migrated to.

Migration is usually considered as a movement of a person from one administrative entity to another. Often, the entities considered are national states and migration is then defined as international migration or external migration. However there are even larger amounts of people who migrate within national boundaries of their country, for instance from rural to urban areas in expectation to find (better) jobs. Here migration is referred to as internal migration.
Looking at the duration of migration one can distinguish between

However, in reality those categories often become blurred.

Studying Migration

The reasons why people migrate are diverse. People migrate in search for better income or better educational opportunities, they migrate for access to health services, or people migrate also because of marriage, following their spouse. However, people also might feel forced to migrate because of conflict, natural disasters or major development projects.

The diversity of migration trajectories is reflected in the variety of empirical research on migration. Many academic disciplines such as demography, sociology, economics, geography or political science study migration, illustrating the variety of angles from which this phenomenon can be looked at. All those disciplines apply different approaches and theories. However, despite this variety, a major distinction can be made between,

  • on the one hand, classical migration research, which looks at migration essentially in terms of flows and push-pull factors that determine these flows.
  • On the other hand, theories explaining the perpetuation of migration emphasize the dynamics that shape the life of migrants and how migration as a process is sustained.

Download and read the text by Susan Thieme in the right hand column in order to get a description of these two sets of migration theories:

After reading the text, click on the quiz in the right hand column and drag and drop the listed keywords in the column of the migration theories they are related to:

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